By Cheryl Wittenauer
Copyright © 1997 C.Wittenauer
Charmayne McGee, whose heart hungered for travel at an early age, has seen and done what a lot of people only dream about.
Backpacked around Europe for two years. Lived in Berlin during the height of the Cold War. Rode the old Southern Belle train to Panama City, Fla., after high school graduation.
McGee says she got the travel bug when her family would take her father to work at the train yards off King Hill in south St. Joseph and speed off to Waterworks Road.
They'd wait for him, a brakeman for Burlington Northern Railroad, and wave him off as the train chugged into the distance.
So it was a logical progression that, after college at the University of Missouri and stints in the Kansas City hotel business, McGee would pursue travel as a career.
In 1976, McGee moved to Mexico to study Spanish at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende. She ended up staying for 17 years and discovered a story she recently related in a book for children.
"So Sings the BLue Deer" is a fictional account of the real-life efforts of Central Mexico's Huichol Indians to return balance to their environment.
"For the Huichol Indians, everything is connected," McGee said in a recent interview.
"This life force they speak of flows through everything. They say the rocks are our bones, the riber is our blood. It's the stewardship that they feel.
The Huichol, who have lived for centuries in the remote reaches of the Sierra Madre mountains, are one of the most purely preserved pre-Columbian cultures in North America, McGee said.
In one ancient ceremony, the Huichol sacrifice white-tailed deer as an offering of food to the nature-god spirits. In return, they believe, the spirits heal the wounds of Earth and keep nature in balance.
Book recounts tribe's efforts to live in harmony.In recent years, however, decimation of the deer by outside hunters and encroaching development meant that the Indians could not perform the sacrificail ceremony.
The Huichol believe that the nature spirits took revenge and wrought Mexico's environmental problems.
McGee's book uses the fictional character of 13-year-old Moon Feather to illustrate what the Huichol in fact accomplished in 1986.
The Indians asked the Mexican government for one white-tailed deer to perform a ceremony they believed would correct the imbalance of nature.
But when the director of the Mexico City zoo offered them 20, the Huichol decided to take them back to their mountain homeland for breeding so that future generations could perform the ceremony and ensure Earth's balance.
McGee said the Mexican government and private agencies paid for the deer to be flown on a DC-3 cargo plane to the closest airfield in the Sierra Madres. The Huichol then carried the crated deer on their shoulders on rough mountain terrain until they reached home three days later.
Two years after the deer project, the Mexican government recoginzed the Indians' efforts to repopulate the forests with deer by awarding them the National Ecology Prize.
And three years ago, the government of the state of Nayarit, Mexico, where the Huichol live, signed an agreement with the Cousteau Society to preserve the area for ecologically safe tourism.
"The blue deer is the intuition that speaks to their heart, if they just listen,"McGee said.
McGee learned of the Huichol from a National Geographic correspondent she met in Mexico. The forrespondent wrote a story about the Indians in 1978.
During her time in Mexico, McGee studied fine arts at the Instituto Allende and taught photography for eight years at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in San Miguel.
She also worked as a free-lance photographer covering the exchange of American drug prisoners in 1978, the excavation of the Aztec Templo Mayor in Mexico Citry and the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City.
McGee is listed in the 1984 and 1994 World Who's Who of Women.
She plans to return to Mexico in may to discuss promotion of her book.
"So Sings the BLue Deer" may be ordered through bookstores, or requested through the public library. It is published by Atheneum, a division of Macmillan Publishing Co. in New York.
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